The Huge Oscar Statue Heist You Probably Forgot About

Some people want an Oscar so badly, they might consider stealing it. Just prior to the 2000 Academy Awards, a trucker, Larry Ledent, and a forklift operator, Anthony Hart, actually did just that. Willie Fulgear found 52 of the 55 missing awards in a Los Angeles dumpster while scavenging for boxes and got $50,000 and a ticket to the 72ndAcademy Awards ceremony, along with a shout-out from host Billy Crystal, when he returned them.

The acclaim didn't last long, as police targeted him a potential facilitator of the theft and most of his reward money was stolen, according to Vanity Fair. "Man, I wish I'd never even seen them Oscars," he said to the publication. "It built me up one day and pushed me right back down the next day."

The 2000 Oscars — 55 of them, imprinted with serial numbers 3005 through 3059 — were sent to Los Angeles through Roadway Express, landing at the Bell terminal. Someone noticed the Motion Picture Academy label and opened a case from the 500-pound pallet, and the Oscars vanished.

The details of the disappearance remain uncertain, according to NBC Boston. It is believed that workers on the late shift posed with the prizes, which were packed individually in Styrofoam, before being put on a vehicle en route to Hawthorne. The Academy ordered new ones, although it was unsure those would be ready in time. A police and FBI investigation to find the missing awards began and Roadway offered a $50,000 reward for their return.

The mystery deepens

Ledent and Hart, employed at Roadway at the time, sometimes let things "fall off the truck," according to police reports shared with NBC Boston, and on March 8 the statues became another item. When Ledent saw the package contained the Oscars he panicked and said, "I just assumed I had to get rid of them." The two men were arrested on March 21, 2000, according to The New York Times, after a tip to authorities.

When Fulgear found the statues, he loaded them into his 1989 Cadillac Coupe De Ville and went home to call the media and the police, said E Online. The officers used a polygraph during their interrogation of Fulgear, believing his story was suspicious. Still, the story led on the evening news and Fulgear received his check at a press conference at L.A.P.D. headquarters. Then Fulgear attended the Oscars with his son, Allen.

Ledent was sentenced to six months in jail, $51,000 fine and five years' probation. Hart was jailed but later released for lack of evidence. He received three years of probation. He filed a $20 million wrongful-arrest lawsuit against the L.A.P.D., the Academy, Roadway and others, which was dismissed in 2006, according to Find Law. One of the missing Oscars was found during a 2003 drug bust, according to CBS News, but the other two remain at large.

The new Academy Award statues

After purchasing a gold Lexus, Fulgear put the remaining reward money, about $40,000, in a safe in his home. He took a monthlong trip to Mississippi, and when he returned home discovered that the money was stolen. Meanwhile, attorneys preparing for Hart's trial found a police report that showed John Willie Harris was Fulgear's half-brother. Ledent initially stored the stolen awards at his home, and Harris was arrested in relation to receiving stolen property. Harris maintained that he and Fulgear weren't speaking at the time. He received three years probation.

The recovered awards, according to the Hollywood Reporter, were eventually destroyed. "They were never going to hand out a stolen statue," said Joseph Petree, design director at R.S. Owens, the company that made the prizes from 1982 to 2015, reports the publication. To prevent future thefts, the business began shipping the statues by plane and added armed security as an escort.

The Academy switched vendors in 2016 and now uses Polich Tallix Fine Art Foundry to produce the statues. "The best part about doing this is seeing people, when they come in who don't know we produce the Oscars," Adam Demchak, executive vice president/general manager, said to CNBC. "We say, 'Hey, do you want to hold an Oscar?' And the change and obvious visible excitement that pops on their face when they understand we are making the actual Oscars, and they get to see one and hold one and see where it's being made."